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Science And Art Make A Delicious Cookie August 31, 2009

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Brain Power, Easy As Pie, Human Body.
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At first glance, I was actually a bit creeped out to see a favorite cookie of mine dissected to show the innards of a human! But this super cool image is the creation of an artist, illustrator and self-proclaimed “crazy person” named Jason Freeny.

What I like most of all when I see this kind of stuff is that it comes from an imaginative place. While science is full of theories and information, it takes a vivid, explorative imagination to bring this to visual life in a way that makes us stop and say “wow.” When I asked Jason about his interest in the human body and science, he replied:

The intricacy fascinates me.

Now, I only wish my high school textbooks had pictures like this way back when I was in school. Well, not that way back. I wonder if this particular gingerbread man has a few gray hairs hiding under his sugary, baked crust.

A Disappearing Fingerprint June 10, 2009

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Brain Power, Diseases, Drugs, Easy As Pie, Human Body.
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Most of us probably don’t give much thought to our fingerprints. Generally, you won’t need to be fingerprinted unless you’ve committed a crime (I hope none of my readers are in that group!) or you’re having it taken for data purposes when you travel into a country such as the United States.

Where Did My Fingerprint Go?

But what happens if you’re all packed up to travel, you get to the border and you simply don’t have a fingerprint. It’s…gone! For people who have certain kinds of cancer, a side effect of a drug they may be taking can mean that they suffer from severe inflammation on their fingers. This leads to peeling, blistering and bleeding. Ouch! The ultimate result is they don’t have fingerprints.

Let Me Enter – I’m Harmless!

If that isn’t troublesome enough, the lack of a fingerprint can make traveling across country borders a tough task when fingerprinting is a requirement. In fact, when one man recently tried to enter the US, he was delayed for four hours because officials were really confused about why he didn’t have any fingerprints. Fortunately, once they figured out that he didn’t pose a threat, he was allowed to pass through.

Prescription Drugs Are Powerful

The drug that triggers this unusual side effect is called capecitabine. It’s a common anti-cancer drug and is used to treat head and neck cancer as well as breast, colorectal and stomach cancers. So, what should these patients do if they need to travel? It’s usually advised that they bring a letter from their doctor, which explains their cancer treatment and the lack of fingerprints.

It just goes to show how powerful side effects can be when it comes to prescription drugs. And, how a medicine can have such an unexpected effect on something like travel. While the case of the missing fingerprint sounds like something out of a forensics novel, we at least know that the culprit here is the drug capecitabine!

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The Report Card Blues January 17, 2009

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Easy As Pie, Human Body, Psychology and Behavior.
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It turns out that how you handle first grade doesn’t just affect your report card in future years, but it also affects how you feel about yourself. In turn, it could link up to feelings of depression way down the line in seventh grade.

Making The Grade

Researchers at the University of Missouri kept track of 474 girls and boys from first grade right up to seventh grade. For my UK readers who may not be familiar with the North American grade system, kids in grade 1 are usually six years old while kids in grade 7 tend to be around the age of twelve.

A lead researcher – Keith Herman, an associate professor at the university – found that the kids who had a hard time with the core subjects such as reading and math were more likely to show some of the risk factors for negative thinking and depression once they hit sixth or seventh grade. Herman thinks that differences in how kids learn will still be an issue, even if a child gets help with the difficult subjects at school.

What Can We Do About It?

So, if Herman’s theory proves true and kids are experiencing depressive thoughts due to their continued struggles with school learning, then what can we all do about it? One suggested solution is to acknowledge skills and positive growth in other areas, such as sports or singing. Herman shared his thoughts on the study and explained:

Children’s individual differences will always exist in basic academic skills, so it is necessary to explore and emphasize other assets in students, especially those with lower academic skill relative to their peers. Along with reading and math, teachers and parents should honor skills in other areas, such as interpersonal skills, non-core academic areas, athletics and music.

Researchers also found that girls responded differently to boys when it comes to self-perception. How a girl performed academically had a far more significant effect on how she viewed herself.

It meant that girls who didn’t really do as well academically saw themselves as not being in control of other parts of their lives. That feeling of not having control over important decisions in your life is considered a risk factor for depression symptoms.

A Little Backtrack

I posted about teen depression and suicide back in January of 2008 – a year ago. You can read the post here. I talked about ways in which teens can get support for depression. Afterwards, I received intense, emotional responses from a range of people – teens and adults.

But one thing that struck me is how responses seemed to bring up the aspect of a person not feeling valued or appreciated – not feeling like they have a special place in this world. There was a real sense of isolation for teens who felt depressed.

Feeling Good About Yourself

When I look at this new study, it seems as though the academic focus can maybe become so overwhelming, that we as adults forget about all the other amazing and cool abilities that teens have in life. The scary thing is that if we don’t acknowledge and share our enthusiasm, respect and admiration for these abilities, how can we expect teens to experience and acknowledge those same feelings?

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Particle Plushies June 30, 2008

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Easy As Pie, Physical and Chemical Reactions, Physics, Weird Gadgets.
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Particle Plushies

I’ve always been a fan of toys and I don’t think I’ll ever grow too old for this kind of neat novelty stuff. The toys in the picture above are called Particle Plushies and were created by Julie Peasley with the help of science consultant and physicist Derek van Westrum.

Tau Neutrino Strange Quark Photon

According to Julie:

I have had a lifelong interest in cosmology, the quantum world and theoretical physics. The Particle Plushies idea came about after attending a physics lecture at UCLA by Dr. Lawrence Krauss entitled ‘The Beginning and End of Time.’ A couple of difficult physics books later (including Lisa Randall’s Warped Passages), I realized that the individual particles seemed to have various ‘personalities’ that could be ‘felted out’ with relative ease.

The toys aren’t meant for really young children but they’re a fun item to have hanging around the house. Better still, these plushies combine art and science to provide education and understanding.

Particle Plushies 2

As for the weird science blog, these cute, smiling toys are hereby approved for coolness!

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Getting Tough With Sunbeds June 23, 2008

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Easy As Pie, Human Body.
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It’s summertime and as you get into your shorts and t-shirt, you might be thinking to yourself that your skin is whiter than Casper the friendly ghost. While some people seek their tan by sprawling under the hot sun at the beach, others head to the tanning salon. Tans are something that many people see as attractive but the path to getting that tan can not only be an ugly one, but it can get a lot uglier with time.

Setting Rules

New rules are now in place for sunbed use in Scotland. The rules are meant to highlight the dangers of sunbeds. In fact, one study found that 4 out of 5 tanning salons did not meet the current safety guidelines. The ultraviolet rays went beyond the maximum standards in Britain. The new regulations are thought to put Scotland ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom.

Getting Tough


So, what happens if salons don’t abide by these new rules? Well, they can say hello to fines. If a salon allows someone under the age of eighteen to use a sunbed, they will be charged £100 (approximately $200 Canadian). Salons are generally not happy about the new rules. Responses have included comments citing that children are more at risk of skin cancer from sun exposure during a foreign holiday or that there isn’t really any evidence to show that sunbeds are being abused.

A Better Tan

If you really do want that tanned look, however, the general consensus is that fake cream or spray tans – most using a chemical called dihydroxyacetone (DHA) – are non-toxic and safe for use on the skin. DHA is a colorless chemical, which undergoes a reaction with the amino acids in your dead skin cells. The result is a brown color – a tan. One safety aspect you should note, however, is that sunscreen is even more important if you are using a topical tanning product. So, be sure to slather your skin up with a quality sunscreen!

As for me, I used to find tans attractive during my own teen years. I disliked being naturally pale and felt that I needed to have that brown glow to look good. Ironically, most of the compliments I receive now are on my “porcelain skin,” which has taught me that we all have a pretty, natural color, whether that’s light or dark. I’d rather keep my sun exposure to a minimum by wearing sunscreen, avoiding tanning salons and letting any lines I develop be laughter ones – not wrinkles from sun exposure.

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